Since the 2019 season ended, it’s been obvious that adding talent to the receiving corps would be one of John Elway’s highest priorities this offseason. Luckily, this need comes around right at the same time as a historic draft class. For that reason, it would make a ton of sense to add a rookie pass catcher (or two+?) come April.
Early reports have suggested the Broncos are enamored with speed. The addition of Pat Shurmur doesn’t necessarily end that obsession, but adds a twist to it. There is little doubt that the Broncos will want to add a Z and/or slot receiver to compliment Courtland Sutton, who is a prototypical X.
If that’s a little confusing, this video by Stampede Blue should help clarify things a little.
This isn’t to say receiver positions are static. Keep in mind that you’ll see Sutton in the slot, and play off the line of scrimmage. Just as you’ll see DaeSean Hamilton line up close to the line in what almost like he’s playing tight end (what’s called a nasty split). All’s to say, if the position designations are a bit fuzzy, don’t sweat it too much.
I’ve said before that the construction of a receiving corps is a lot like making an NBA starting lineup. Sutton has the makings of a LeBron James type. He’s an emerging superstar. Noah Fant showed flashes that he could be a dynamic number two or three last year, and the move to Shurmur’s offense should only help to capitalize on his strengths as a receiver. What the Broncos are looking for this offseason is a running mate to compliment those two. It’s a big reason why speed has been the common denominator for the early receiver buzz, but Shurmur’s offense is flexible enough this one trait doesn’t have to be the end all, be all.
What follows is my pre-Combine rankings. I wanted to make an early list before we start seeing all of the athletic testing numbers. I’m as guilty as anyone of letting that skew my opinion. To combat that, it made too much sense to get a first look through the class. Consider this my starting point for the position this offseason. Guys may rise or fall as we find out more, and names will be added as I continue to dig into this insanely deep class.
All players will be listed by my preference, not necessarily where I see them going in the NFL draft. My goal is to scout players with their impact in the league in mind more than their draft position. For most of the players, I briefly touched on traits that stood out to me both good and bad, and how I see the fit for Denver.
Let’s get started.
Tier 1 - Rare Air
Was tempted to cop out and rank all three of the following prospects as #1. That’s how close they are for me right now. If the Broncos can land any of them I will be very happy.
1. CeeDee Lamb - Oklahoma
If one WR1 is good, two is even better.
Lamb has rare hips and hand-eye coordination. He’ll create the separation he needs to school defensive backs and has the kind of grip strength and mentality to bring the ball down in contested situations. He’s also an underrated YAC threat. I’m lowkey hoping teams 1-14 overthink a good-not-great workout at the Combine, as I don’t expect his 40 to blow people’s socks off.
2. Jerry Jeudy - Alabama
Technical skill hides his sheer talent.
It feels like a slight to throw Jeudy behind Lamb, and it really isn’t meant as one. He’s one of the best separators I’ve seen since I started really poring over collegiate receivers. This is because he comes very good athleticism with the kind of route running savvy that can leave opponents in a tizzy.
With the Tide he played a lot of inside position and because of that there are questions about his ability to beat the press, but that shouldn’t be a huge issue for the Broncos. He’s a day 1 starter as an X-receiver with the catch radius, explosiveness, and upside to turn into a superstar.
He came into the year as a lock number one for a number of people, and seems to be this draft season’s victim of over-analysis. Riding the top of the board for too long leads to boredom, like Lamb, if the NFL is dumb enough to fall asleep on him the Broncos could really benefit.
3. Henry Ruggs III- Alabama
If you want a “99 speed” receiver, he’s your guy.
You know he’s fast, so I’ll spare you all the superlatives there. It’s hard to dismiss what that does for the rest of his game though: his release, separation quickness, and ability to create yards after the catch is close to, if not the best in this class in part because of his play speed.
Where he’s being underrated right now is his route running ability and hands. It’s a big thing that separates him from most of the other speed merchants in this class. Ruggs doesn’t routinely body catch and if the ball makes it to his hands he’s a reliable pass catcher.
I also really like his effort as a blocker, and think he has the competitive toughness to thrive even when he’s little more than a decoy. If I had to complain about anything with Ruggs, it’s that he’s doesn’t seem to have the same type of lateral quickness that he does in a straight line. He’s also smaller than the guys above him, which could show up if he has to adjust to a bad pass, go up for a ball, or try to box out an opponent in the redzone.
KOA’s Benjamin Allbright has said since December that the Broncos at 15 represent Ruggs’ floor. I would be perfectly okay with that. It’s fair to wonder if he’ll still be on the board if he destroy’s the Combine 40-yard dash record though.
Help me settle an argument.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) January 25, 2020
Who is your WR1?
Tier 2 - The “woke” sleeper
The secret’s out.
4. Denzel Mims - Baylor
Everything you’d want from a Z but the 4.3 speed.
This will surprise you, and may come off as an overreaction to his outstanding Senior Bowl. I can’t do anything about the former, but go watch his games against Texas and Oklahoma State before you write this off as the latter.
Mims’ ability to high point the ball and win battles with defensive backs has been slept on. He’s got nice hands and an ability to make contested catches that will make his QB right even when he’s wrong. Of what I’ve seen so far, his body control is second to only CeeDee Lamb in this class. What really jumped out in Mobile is how much better he is as a route runner than what his Baylor tape showed. He’s got a solid to good release and I really like what he’d offer a Shurmur offense in the redzone.
The big questions with Mims going forward are going to be his Combine numbers. I think he’s a 4.5 guy, which isn’t the kind of pure speed the masses are crying for. There’s a chance Elway overlooks him for that reason, but if he doesn’t the Bear could be a perfect fit for what his offensive coordinator likes to utilize in his passing game.
Tier 3 - Bets on upside
Every receiver here has flashes that leave you drooling. In the right offense and with a little work on some of their rougher edges, they could turn into the best receiver in this class. Or they could go to a wasteland and never be heard from again.
5. Jalen Reagor - TCU
Might be the best overall athlete in this class.
Reagor is a very popular pick right now. More than a few have bought into bypassing a receiver at 15 to steal the TCU product a little later on. Here’s my problem with that, beyond his athleticism (which is incredible) he’s adequate at all of the other important factors you consider for a receiver. TCU’s quarterback situation could have been better if they’d lined up a real Horned Frog to take snaps in 2019, but when you go back to 2018 many of my biggest concern about Reagor are still there.
If the Broncos draft Reagor, I could see him initially taking Diontae Spencer’s role as a role player who contributes on special teams, crossers, smoke screens, and Jet motion. Right now that’s my soft ceiling for him as he does not display reliably consistent hands. Far too often he makes body catches. He’ll drop passes he shouldn’t, and there are instances on tape where he leaves the ball away from his body for a defensive back to swat.
Beyond that, I have questions about his ability to run routes. This may be the case where TCU just didn’t ask him to do it, but it leaves you wondering. What is he capable of? The Combine should help there. It’s also not out of the realm of possibility that he makes huge strides there as he prepares for the Draft.
But right now, I’d consider him an upside guy. He’s very exciting, and his best plays leave you breathless, but his floor is considerably lower than Ruggs. I’d be nervous if the Broncos take him in hopes that he’ll be an immediate upgrade on Tim Patrick in 2020.
6. Laviska Shenault Jr. - Colorado
The only limitations are your imagination, his route running, and injury luck.
Put down your pitch fork and listen for a second. Laviska Shenault’s best plays are some of the more exciting ones in this class. Yes, I know Steven Montez wasn’t great in 2019. One of the big reasons I didn’t watch a ton of CU during the fall was their woeful passing attack, after all.
Looking beyond that to Shenault the prospect though, I have some serious concerns. The first one that simply can’t be addressed ‘til at least the Combine is all of his medical stuff. He’s been dinged up over his college career, and while he showed grit playing through pain, you can’t dismiss that many surgeries.
On the field my biggest concerns with Shenault come down to the finer nuances of playing receiver. I’d consider his route running and release as just adequate right now. In particular I had issues with his hips as he doesn’t display the kind of wiggle or nuance when he’s trying to deceive a defensive back that I’d like.
With the right coaching these things could melt away, as he looks to have a tantalizing size/speed combination. But I suspect he’ll need time to adapt to the NFL.
7. Jauan Jennings - Tennessee
One of my favorite parts of this time of year is how many people have differing opinions on players. Few look as polarizing as this Volunteer. If you keep up with Pro Football Focus, he’s a second round talent on their board. The Draft Network has him in the 200’s on their collective board. So if you disagree with me here (or anywhere) that’s perfectly fine. I do wonder if there is something going on beyond the scenes that doesn’t show up on film with Jennings, because it’s hard to dismiss what he can do between the white lines.
Simply put, the dude is a YAC machine. He’s a big, strong, and physical receiver who reminds me of a young Brandon Marshall. Standing 6’3 and a little over 200 lbs, he does a solid job going up to bring the ball down in the air and has a good catch radius. Once the ball is in his hands, he sheds defenders with little effort. What’s more, he moves through space far better than I expected him to.
He played in multiple alignments for the Vols, and his game against South Carolina revealed how a creative play caller could utilize his past as a quarterback. I’d like to see him continue to enhance his route running and improve his release. If both happen, the sky could be the limit. The latter looked better in Mobile, but it will probably remain a work in progress early in his career. As fun as his best catches are, I’d also like to see him become a bit more reliable here as well. There are instances where he’ll lose a ball through his hands, such as the 2019 Florida game.
I don’t think his 40 is going to light your hair on fire, but he has the opportunity to turn into a nice option. His frame, athleticism, and tenacity makes it fun to imagine what he could do on slants, crossers, post routes at the next level. He could also be a nice addition to the redzone offense.
8. Bryan Edwards - South Carolina
In a normal receiver class, Edwards would be generating the kind of buzz guys like Jalen Reagor and Laviska Shenault are. The whole bad quarterback excuse sticks with Edwards in the same way, only he still put up 800 yards in the SEC against the Alabama’s, Georgia’s, and Florida’s. Watching his Missouri tape reveals just how bad he had it, while also providing some strong examples how he’ll reward a team that invests in him.
Standing 6’3” and a burly 215 lbs with explosiveness to boot, Edwards doesn’t go down easy once he has the ball. He’d represent an instant upgrade on most of the Broncos’ current receiving corps on manufactured touches.
My biggest concern for him comes down to hands, which is hard to overlook. When the ball’s around his sternum to his helmet he’s money, but he shows a tendency to try and trap the ball in what I’ve seen. Part of this can be alleviated with a better passer in the league, but he may never be the kind of receiver that makes his QB look more accurate than he is.
Edwards’ shows promise in his release with his hand work, and his fluidity at his size is noticeable on curls and slants. He’s going to need some time to develop the technical parts of route running to reach his ceiling, but the upside is tantalizing.
9. Justin Jefferson - LSU
The tough and tall number two.
Steady is how I would describe Jefferson’s tape. I watched a ton of LSU this Autumn and he was a guy who seemingly came out of nowhere before disappearing again. It isn’t his fault as Joe Burrow definitely wasn’t lacking options in the passing game. Maybe that’s why he was forgotten about until the College Football Playoff, but it isn’t as though he only just turned it on. After all, he led the Tigers in receptions.
When it comes to traits that stand out about his game, the first one is how Jefferson uses varying speeds and his hips, eyes, dead legs, and head fakes to lie to defenders. He possesses good short area mobility and knows how to use it to create space within his routes. He isn’t afraid to catch passes in traffic and reliable hands, even if he won’t be the best bully ball receiver or a true vertical threat.
In 2019 he did the majority of his damage from the slot in LSU’s spread formations. He’s crafty enough to play on the boundary or inside for the Broncos, and with Shurmur moving to a lot more 3 receiver sets there’s room for his skillset. I doubt he blows scouts away in Indy, but he’s quicker than given credit for. I don’t know if he’ll ever be an alpha receiver on a competent passing attack, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Jefferson winds up the receiver from this class who plays the longest in the league.
Tier 3 - Need for Speed
If Elway is dead set on adding a vertical element for Lock these three could be higher on his board. All four have the kind of athleticism to pop the top off of defenses.
10. Brandon Aiyuk - Arizona State
Aiyuk is a bit like Jefferson in that many of his catches don’t necessarily jump off the film at you, then he’ll haul in on deep pass and finish with 160 yards receiving. He’s maybe 90% the athlete Hamler and Reagor are, but was a more reliable receiver in 2019.
The biggest reason for this is Aiyuk has solid hands and looks comfortable reaching outside his frame to pull a ball in. It creates a larger catch radius than you expect for a 6’0” athlete and helps him win his fair share of contested catches. None of this will pop out to you the same way sheer speed does, but it matters a great deal. You add his hands and catch radius to his good top end speed and it makes him a noticeable deep ball threat.
One other thing about the Sun Devil’s game that I really liked is how he comes up in big moments. He’ll go over the middle and take a lick for the ball and will fight after the catch to convert. Both these traits should serve him well, especially early in his career as he’s still developing as a route runner and will need time to improve against tight man coverage at the next level.
Right now I’d say that one of the things I’m really left with on Aiyuk is how much higher his floor feels than the next two guys in this tier. He should be able to contribute on special teams right away, and has skills needed to start out in the slot if he isn’t ready for boundary duties in the NFL. The upside is still there, but he’s a far safer bet to hang around the league for a decade.
11. KJ Hamler - Penn State
DeSean Jackson 2.0?
The first thing that jumps off the film when you’re watching Hamler is how he erases pursuit angles. He isn’t just fast, but has the ability to shift and throttle in and out of breaks with such ease that it messes with defenders anticipation. Of the receivers I’ve studied so far, only Ruggs and Reagor come close when it comes to pure movement through space.
Hamler serves as a bit of a test case for what you’re willing to concede to get game breaking speed. His route running and ability to separate are good enough that it should translate to next level and improve in time, but he isn’t getting much bigger. It’s impossible to ignore how that diminutive frame impacts the rest of his game, because it bleeds into everything.
Listed at 5’9” and weighing in under 180 lbs, the Nittany Lion has a smaller catch radius than the rest of the receivers I studied. Add to that how often he relies on catching the ball with his body, and it’s hard to imagine him being a real option in contested situations. Worse yet, he doesn’t show a lot of ability to high point or go after throws in the air, which will hurt the biggest asset he brings to the table.
There are ways for Hamler to find a great deal of success in the league. Like Reagor, he should provide a big boost on Mesh concepts, screens, and the threat of him on vertical concepts should provide space for others to operate. But I suspect he’s going to take some things off the table for his future play caller, and it can’t be ignored.
12. Devin Duvernay - Texas
A junkyard dog with wheels.
Duvernay takes a step or two to reach it, but if he lands somewhere like Denver his long speed could be a real asset. He has reliable hands, a larger than expected catch radius, and shows comfort with back shoulder catches which really maximizes what he could do in the deep passing game. Add in the fact he’ll run opponents over for extra yards after the catch and Shurmur could turn him into a true steal.
There are two things that are holding him down on this list. He’s better in a straight line than laterally and his callow route running nuance limit what he’ll be able to do early. I love his upside if he lands with the right receiver coach, but if he never figures out how to maximize his gifts at the next level we may forget he was in this class.
13. Donovan Peoples-Jones - Michigan
How much do you value traits relative to production? Peoples-Jones finished with less than 500 receiving yards last year in a painfully dysfunctional Wolverine offense, but has the kind of upside that leads me to believe he could be a far better pro.
He isn’t 0-60 off the line of scrimmage, but has good to very good speed. He offers a long frame with the ability to go up and snag the ball from its highest point. He has solid hands and shows the ability to catch the ball off his toes as well as in the air. All these things combine to make him a viable developmental prospect for a vertical role.
For the Broncos he could step in and eventually contribute as a deep crosser, slant, and go route player. The threat of his speed would open up curls and other comeback routes. The time it takes him to work to top gear probably negates some of the upside for him as a smoke screen or returner. He’s adequate at best at generating yards after contact, which puts a glass ceiling on what he could do with the ball in his hands.
Tier 4 - Unranked for now.
With the Broncos’ needs in mind, these players did not get as much attention from me. Still plan to look through their games at length, but I’m not completely sold on them as fits or high priority players for Elway right now. They are however on my radar.
Tee Higgins - Clemson
Collin Johnson - Texas
Isaiah Hodgins - Oregon State
Michael Pittman Jr. - USC
Antonio Gandy-Golden - Liberty
If the Broncos want to get a rich man’s version of Tim Patrick and go with a triple tower type of offense, the Tiger would be a fun way to do so. I have questions about his ability to separate at the next level and his route running isn’t close to the top tier technicians in this class. That said, his frame, catch radius, and ball skills make him hard to bet against.
Collin Johnson fits the same kind of archetype. He looked quicker during his week in Mobile, which could help him shed the “tall slow guy” label. His game is Higgins-esque in burnt orange. He’s an interesting developmental prospect.
Like the first two, if the Broncos did not have Courtland Sutton and were looking for an X-receiver Pittman and Hodgins are a pair I’d spend a lot more time on. Neither looks like they’ll be the fastest player, but both have some fun traits. Hodges is on the short list for best hands in this class and has no trouble exposing himself to hits to pull throws in over the middle of the field. Pittman uses his frame and size to box out defenders. Combine could open some eyes on either if they run well.
As far as Gandy-Golden, he brings a coupe of crazy traits to the table, but looks like he needs significant work on his routes to become more than a situational role payer in the NFL. It’s hard to count him out because athleticism, hands, and a catch radius like his are impossible to ignore. I wouldn't mind adding him as a second receiver in the draft class in hopes that he figures it out in time.
Van Jefferson - Florida
On the shortest of lists for best route runners in this class, the Gator can create separation without a lot of help. The Senior Bowl looks to have awoken newfound interest in his game, but he may face a glass ceiling on his draft stock because of his age. So long as he doesn’t bomb the Combine I’m intrigued. In a Shurmur offense that utilizes a heavier dose of isolation routes his best traits carry increased value.
K.J. Hill - Ohio State
Slot machine with some flashy hands.
He spent last week victimizing all of the corners in Mobile. He owns the all-time leader in receptions Ohio State, and is more athletic than he’s given credit for. I’m curious to see how he performs at the Combine. Maybe it’s because of Terry McLaurin, but with how much Hill dominated practices at the Senior Bowl he’s one to keep an eye on.
I need to see more of
Tyler Johnson - Minnesota
So far I’ve seen one game of his. He’s interesting, and I’m very curious as to why he’s been a bit of an afterthought by the NFL. At one point during the Fa he was considered a trendy Day 2 target for teams needing hep in the sot. Then he was overlooked for the Senior Bowl, and Matt Miller of Bleacher Report made it known that Twitter was higher on him than the scouts were. He then accepted a Shrine Bow invite only to pull out late in the process. I want to see more, but this divide has me very curious if there’s more going on behind the scenes we don’t now about.
Quartney Davis - Texas A&M
Right now I’ve gotten the chance to watch two of Davis’ games. He has some things I really like and could definitely see helping him at the NFL level. He reaches top speed in a hurry and has more lateral mobility than you’d expect. I could see him becoming a reliable intermediate and YAC receiver for Drew Lock, but I need to see more.
Hopefully I can stumble into more of his film, but until then it doesn’t feel right to rank him.
Your Broncos Links
Should Denver choose to be big spenders in free agency, Joe Thuney is the best guard available.
Kenyan Drake would be an excellent compliment to Phillip Lindsay.
With the move to Pat Shurmur as offensive coordinator, the Denver Broncos looked to his former OC, Mike Shula, to become their next quarterback coach.
Ryan Edwards and Benjamin Allbright discuss why Broncos’ head coach Vic Fangio made a coordinator change and what it will mean for the Drew Lock Era.
MHR’s Jeff Essary highlights some players he wouldn’t mind seeing the Broncos potentially take in the NFL Draft.
Are they trying to go strictly young at the wide receiver position, or do they want to have a mix of youth and veterans? Ideally, you would have at least one savvy veteran player out there, but are the Broncos presently and ideally built to add an established player at receiver who could work well with Courtland Sutton?
NFL Draft Links
I made sure to scout each wide receiver who would be in Mobile prior to seeing them in practice, getting a feel for their game, expectations, and potential draft stock. Based on those prior introductions to them as prospects, I’ve graded each individual performance throughout the week based on a stock-up, stock-down, or no-movement scale.
5 scouts weigh in on their favorite prospect.
Derrik Klassen kicks off the Quantifying Quarterbacks charting profile series with a deep dive into LSU star quarterback Joe Burrow.
The Senior Bowl is a critical week for all participants, in one capacity or another.
Johnson, a convert to the wide receiver position, has wasted steps in his routes and has poor spacing at times relative to coverage. He is athletic and has natural hands, but there’s a lot left uncovered.
While we know the NFL likes him less than the infallible Internet does, we don’t know to what degree they are separate. If it’s a small chasm — top 50 versus top 75 — then there really isn’t much for Johnson to prove, but it seems like the gap is much bigger.
Andy Reid: Chiefs had “a pretty good idea” how high they had to trade to draft Mahomes – ProFootballTalk
“Because of the media attention that gets put on the draft around that time, people talk,” Reid said. “We had a pretty good idea who was interested and who wasn’t. [John] Dorsey was in charge of the draft at that time and he maneuvered up to get him, knowing who was out there and who the threats were.”
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said this week that the team has no medical concerns and the first injury report ahead of Super Bowl LIV shows that nothing’s changed on that front. All 53 players on the active roster fully participated in Wednesday’s practice.
There’s a difference. This is where the very smart football knower chimes in with “ALL QUARTERBACKS RUN A SYSTEM.” Which is true but misses the point of the label. Sure, Tom Brady and Drew Brees have pretty much been in the same system for most of their careers but it’s pretty clear that both of those guys elevate(d) the systems they’re in. The same goes for a guy like Lamar Jackson, whose unmatched ability makes the Ravens’ unique offensive system viable (and not the other way around).
The Chicago Bears made their first offseason acquisition with the signing of highly-touted CFL cornerback Tre Roberson, who chose the Bears over nine other teams. Veteran cornerback Prince Amukamara’s future in Chicago was already in question, considering he’s presumed to be a cap-casualty. The Bears can save $9 million by releasing him.
Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky will spend the first part of his offseason recovering from surgery. Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com reports that Trubisky had surgery to repair a partially torn labrum in his left shoulder.
NFL Hall Of Famer and Bucs’ legend Warren Sapp went on the Rich Eisen show and explained why John Lynch should get in the Hall Of Fame.
“They’ve talked about it, no numbers yet,” Adams said Wednesday, via Brian Costello of the New York Post. “I’d be lying if I said I don’t expect to be extended. I do because of not for what I’ve just done on the field, but even off the field for what I’ve done for the organization. I’ve done everything they’ve asked me to do. I’ve done it at a high level each and every year. I’ve proven that I’m the best safety doing it right now.”
The Patriots acknowledged in early December that a member of their video crew taped the Bengals’ sideline during a game, in violation of league policy. But so far, nothing has been done about that.